Forget mere fabrics, Sea Island Cotton is one of the rarest raw materials in the whole world. We’re not surprised you’ve never heard of it.
You’ll want to, though. Because this variety of cotton is so soft and so luxurious, it makes the very best socks and pants on the planet. Ian Fleming was a huge fan, so even James Bond wears (very snug) Sea Island Cotton boxers. Licence to Kill? More like Licence to Frill!
If you want to know more about Sea Island Cotton, keep reading. Where does it come from? What makes it so special? How on Earth does one seriously famous monarch fit into all this? And exactly why is Sea Island Cotton so good for making socks and underwear? Don’t worry, friend, we’ve got you covered.
What makes it so special?
Sea Island Cotton is an example of extra-long-staple cotton... which probably means absolutely nothing to you. Basically, all its individual fibres are longer than 34mm. And the longer the fibres are, the softer the cotton is.
As very few other cottons have a longer staple length, this is one of the softest materials you can wear. Great news for your seat and your feet!
The less good news is that Sea Island Cotton is incredibly rare.
It never used to be that way. Actually, from the 1700s to the 1900s, it was a pretty common variety of cotton. But then an infestation of weevils (ugly bugs with extra-long noses) almost wiped the crop off the face of the planet.
Luckily, they were thwarted in their evil mission. But still, only a very small percentage of the cotton produced today is cultivated from this Sea Island variety. To put it into numbers for you, out of the c. 1 million bales of cotton produced every year across the world, only about 150 are Sea Island Cotton.
So, it’s highly prized for its silky texture, but a pain to get hold of.
We’re sure you can imagine what effect that has on the price. Add on to that the skill it takes to be able to spin long, fine fibres like these, and you’re absolutely looking at a high-end premium product.
Where does it come from?
Sea Island Cotton is derived from the Gossypium barbadense plant. Given its name, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sea Island Cotton comes from the USA. But although it gets its name from the island group off the coast of South Carolina, you’ve got to go even further south to find where this plant originates from.
Sea Island Cotton is actually native to South America and was first grown down there over 6,000 years ago. US farmers did not start growing it till the 1780s, but that didn’t stop them claiming and naming it for themselves.
These days, we’ve got to be very careful with our Sea Island Cotton crop, because we don’t want to lose it altogether. Cotton specialists preserved the seeds that survived the Sea Island superbug, and now it is grown by a handful of dedicated farmers in the Caribbean.
The climate of the Caribbean is perfect for growing Sea Island Cotton. There, the plants get just the right amount of sunlight, rain, and humidity, and we’re pleased to say they’re thriving!
Sea Island Cotton - Luxury Socks and Underwear
Every year, once the cotton has been harvested, the 150 bales are sent to expert spinners for weaving. Now, not many people have the skill to turn these fine fibres into even finer items of clothing these days. But thankfully, a few artisans with the magic touch remain.
And once the staples have all been woven together to form a fabric, it’s design time. You can get high-quality Sea Island Cotton shirts, pyjamas, hankies, underwear, and of course, socks. (Our favourite things, in case you couldn’t tell!)
Sea Island Cotton has several qualities that make it the perfect material to manufacture socks and underwear out of, including:
To be classed as extra-long-staple cotton, a plant must have fibres that are more than 34mm in length from top to bottom. And the longer the staples are, the softer the fabric is when they’re all woven together. Sea Island Cotton fibres are generally 37mm+, meaning this material makes for an ultrasoft pair of socks.
The fine weave gives Sea Island Cotton fabrics a very even texture. This prevents pilling and helps your pants and socks stay in shape (meanwhile, we still have to go to the gym for that - how unfair).
Not only is Sea Island Cotton one of the softest, kindest things you can wear next to your skin, it’s also supremely long-lasting.
Most of us wear socks and undies every day - well, hopefully, we do, anyway - so these items are the items in our wardrobes that tend to wear out the fastest. Given the price of Sea Island Cotton, though, you really want clothing that’s going to last. Luckily, you’ve found it!
No more cheesy feet! The fine weave of Sea Island Cotton is extremely breathable and will keep your toes nice and cosy without making them sweat.
Not all Sea Island Cotton is equal, though. So, when you’re shopping, remember to look out for the official WISICA (West Indian Sea Island Cotton Association) certification that guarantees the purity of the material used.
From SocksFox with Love
We’re on a quest to bring you the most luxurious socks and underwear from around Europe. And our mission just would not have been complete without mentioning this royally good fabric.
That’s right, Queen Victoria might have been perpetually unamused, but she was certainly very impressed with Sea Island Cotton. This hard-to-please monarch blew her turned-up nose on Sea Island Cotton handkerchiefs. It’s not to be sniffed at, then, eh?
You’ll find an incredible selection of Sea Island Cotton socks and undies on our website. Made by top European brands like Bresciani, Dore Dore, Hanro, Pantherella, and Zimmerli, we promise pants don’t get any fancier than this!